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SPS-232: Why You Should be Telling Stories in Non-Fiction – with Vicky Fraser


Vicky Fraser teaches business owners the importance of telling their story in book form. But facts are just the beginning. Vicky and James talk about the importance of drawing the reader in, no matter what kind of story you’re telling.

Show Notes

  • Building strong habits to support your writing
  • Why storytelling matters in non-fiction books
  • How a well told story helps people retain information
  • When you’re writing non-fiction, what story are you telling?
  • The emotional element of readers’ buying choices

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

WRITING CHALLENGE: Vicky has set a writing challenge for SPS listeners. Click here to learn more and join in.

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-244: Self Publishing in South Africa - with Dani René

Announcer: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show ...

Dani Rene: And slowly, after the first release, I learned about PR companies and book bloggers and reviews, and I was like, "Wow. This is a whole world," because if you're not in the community, you don't actually realise it's there.

Announcer: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. With me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. Not in my office today.

James Blatch: Not in your office, in your home office, which is where everyone is now. The new normal. Welcome to our world. We've been home office-ing for years. We don't need a disease to work from home.

Mark Dawson: That's very true, yes. Actually, I've been here for quite a lot since lockdown eased. But it's quite nice to be home today.

James Blatch: Yes. You have an office in town, of course. WeWork and Regus in the UK are these companies, are probably a good investment area because people will eventually scale down the big offices in London. There's no question, I think, about that. They'll still want them there, but there'll be a lot more working from home.

I've had two friends ... In fact, one yesterday, come around to look at this garden office, because they're very quickly working out that, particularly if you're in a small-ish house, it's difficult to work all day at home. You need a bit of space to yourself. I think investment opportunities there. The garden office company, Regus and WeWork.

WeWork's never made any money, but it might. I mean, they've got a slightly eccentric ... I don't know if you ever look at this guy, a slightly eccentric owner.

Mark Dawson: I do know about him, yes. He got into quite a lot of trouble, didn't he? His wife's a little bit odd as well.

James Blatch: But he might've fallen on his feet suddenly because of COVID, but there we go.

Okay, look, let me welcome a couple of Patreon supporters. I'm going to say Patreon from now on, I think, if I can remember to do that, rather than Patreon. And we are going to say a very warm welcome to Joshua McManners from Cambridgeshire. In fact, I think he's just down the road from me, Joshua. Welcome to being a Patreon supporter of The Self Publishing Show. And also to Melissa from California in the United States of America. Thank you very much.

You can go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow to support the show and you get a load of goodies. It's all there on the page, but you get everything first, and a few goodies thrown in.

We mentioned our one-on-one course. It opens next Wednesday. You can go to selfpublishingformula.com/101 from Wednesday 10:00 PM UK time. That's ... When is that? In the afternoon in New York. Something like that.

Mark Dawson: Don't ask me.

James Blatch: Something like 5:00 in the afternoon, New York. A little bit earlier in the West Coast, and the next morning in Australia, because they're in the future. And we're looking forward to opening the gates for 101, welcoming on a clutch of a new, enthusiastic students who can join me in being a first time author. It never gets old with that.

Mark Dawson: Many of them will be first time authors before you, I suspect.

James Blatch: Maybe. I'm doing well on my second book, you'll be pleased to know, so I've now got two unpublished books.

Mark Dawson: Excellent. Very good.

James Blatch: Redneck is going well. Good. Okay. What else are we going to say? We're going to say, we have a little bit of a podcast Self-Publishing Show announcement today, do we not, Mark?

Mark Dawson: We do, yes. As we record this on Monday before the Friday, we are at one million, 996 thousand downloads. By the time this goes out, we will have gone through two million downloads, which is an achievement, I think. It's a milestone to celebrate.

James Blatch: Yeah, it is.

Mark Dawson: Thanks to everyone who has downloaded ... How many episodes have we done now? What is it, 237?

James Blatch: 240, I think.

Mark Dawson: 240.

James Blatch: 244 maybe this might be?

Mark Dawson: Yeah. Thanks to everyone who's downloaded and listened today. Some people have listened to all of them, so pity those poor people who listen to us faffing around at the start when we didn't know what we were doing, trying to interview people between the two of us, which was a disaster.

James Blatch: It wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't optimal. It was sub-optimal.

Mark Dawson: It was a disaster. Thanks to everyone who's been around. Some people start from the start, some people will just pick up the latest ones. We appreciate every single one of our listeners. It's lovely to be able to do this for you.

James Blatch: We really do. And, yeah, two million downloads, I think, is a good achievement. Of course, it could be 10 people who've downloaded it 200,000 times each.

Mark Dawson: I don't think it works like that. I suppose technically it's possible.

James Blatch: We have loyal fans who listen to every word and lots of other people who dip in and out. And I know from occasionally when we've said something or had a guest, it gets a little spike interest, that there's a wider community, because you hear some of the Twitter-ati talking and quoting us. I think we've seeped into the indie consciousness as part of the furniture, I guess, is what I'm trying to say.

We've done 101. We've down our Patreons. We've welcomed our two millionth download with the red tape cutting.

Anything else to report this week? Shall we mention, there's been some chatter in our groups and other groups about some Amazon links, shenanigans with Facebook? We haven't really got to the bottom of it, but there's a kind of don't panic from you, I think, coming out of this.

Mark Dawson: We mentioned it last week, didn't we? Nothing really much has happened since then. Just very, very briefly to reiterate the message from last week was, there's some concern that Facebook is no longer allowing links and ads to Amazon, which again, made no sense when we heard about this. I still don't think this is true.

The latest I heard was that someone claimed Amazon.co.uk in their business manager which meant that no one else could use it.

James Blatch: Oh, hilarious.

Mark Dawson: That can't be true. That just can't be true. And also, just remember of course that authors are not the only people sending Facebook traffic to Amazon. Everyone selling things is sending traffic to Amazon. I don't think that's true.

I've seen some responses from Facebook support, obviously all contradictory. But I've seen some acknowledging that this is an issue, a known issue, it's being dealt with. And I've seen in the community ads are being switched on again.

My ads to the UK went off on Saturday. They all got shut down. I re-enabled them on Sunday and they're all running. I think it might have passed. But it has been really bumpy with Facebook over the last two to three weeks. I think it will be bumpy all the way through November now, until the US election is out of the way. I think it's going to be quite a bumpy time for that platform in particular.

James Blatch: What about the six months of legal wrangling after the election?

Mark Dawson: I think, well, after that point, I don't think anybody will be concerned about Russians using Facebook ads to influence one way or the other. Yeah, there'll be some dust to settle, but hopefully things will calm down by then. And from my perspective, at the moment, it seems okay. But don't be surprised if there are other issues as we push on, and just check into the SPF community for reports of issues.

And also, if you're finding something, it's always worth doing a quick search. Because there were maybe, I don't know, half a dozen new threads started by people who hadn't done that and missed out on quite long threads explaining what had happened and what we thought the reasons were. It's always worth doing a quick search.

I understand people are posting because it's quite concerning, especially when several authors were saying that basically my business relies on Facebook ads and suddenly I can't advertise. Fairly significant and concerning for people like that. But for that kind of stuff, we'll always post it in the group, so it's definitely the first place to look.

James Blatch: Yeah. Definitely worth being there, our Facebook groups. Search Self Publishing Formula on Facebook. Yeah. And for the record, Fuse campaigns have never been affected by this. I'm running to Amazon on both .co.uk and .com using [gande.is] links. Whether that makes a difference, I don't know. But, yeah. They've not been. But Tom Ashford came a cropper. Our view own Tom, who's now selling his own books and doing very well with them. Yes, he had a little temper tantrum, didn't he? Said, "This is not on." And he got shut down.

Mark Dawson: Yes, he did. Yeah.

James Blatch: Bless him. Okay. Now, somebody who knows all about this world, has sold a shed-load of books, has done really well is our interviewee today. Her name is Dani Rene. She sells top books like ... I guess you'd probably just slip into at the weekend, Mark? Sort of male BDSM spicy romance. While She Sleeps, is one of them. A Cut So Deep. I love her titles. The Devil's Play Thing.

Mark Dawson: You're really tearing us apart just now.

James Blatch: Semi-biographical perhaps for Dawson. Lots of naked torsos on show. Now, Dani is actually in South Africa, in lovely Cape Town. And a lot of this interview is a bit about not being in America, not being in the UK, which are the two, as I think I said in the interview, the two that spike places for sales on an Amazon survey at the moment, or that is changing. And when you're not in those two territories, which get a lot of the things first. They get a lot of the front-end first. They get a lot of bells and whistles.

When you're outside of that zone, life can be slightly more complicated, particularly in South Africa, as Dani explains. So, some good tips about if you're not in America and the UK, how to continue and make the most of your marketing to those big territories. And also, just a bit about being Dani Rene, being a successful writer, a young woman who's done really well. Very excited for her. Let's hear it from Dani.

Dani Rene, welcome to the Self Publishing Show from beautiful Cape Town.

Dani Rene: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

James Blatch: You're very welcome. In fact, the odd thing is, despite the fact that you're ... I don't know how far, eight, 10,000 miles away?

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: We're about in the same timezone, aren't we? Because we run down North, South.

Dani Rene: Yeah. We're about an hours difference at the moment, I think it is, because it's midday here now.

James Blatch: There you go. 11:00 in the morning, so that makes a difference for me. It's usually dark outside and it's sunny whenever I'm talking to somebody. But, here we go. Good.

Dani, we're going to talk a bit about you. I think we'll talk a bit about being in South Africa and this will probably be helpful for people in Canada, and Australia, and New Zealand and places that aren't the US, basically, and the UK.

The UK and the US are big spike markets for eBook sales in particular. When you operate outside of those markets, obviously you're feeding into them. But, we'll talk a bit about what it's like from there.

Why don't you tell us a little bit about your background and when you got going with writing?

Dani Rene: Okay. I started writing when I was probably about 12 or 13. And I started writing really short stories in little notebooks that I kept and I started writing paranormal, actually, because I always read paranormal. I thought, "Well, I can try this out." And I found it quite fun, because it was almost an outlet.

I've always had a creative mindset. I wasn't very academic. I didn't enjoy school very much. I liked the art side of things. And then, I wrote until I was about at college. And then after college, before I started working, because I studied art, so once again, the creative side.

I went over to the UK. I spent a couple years working, travelling around and doing the gap year, I guess. And then, it was only when I got back home and I started working again and I had the time on my hands where in the evenings I'd sit down and jot notes out and things like that. And I never thought, "Oo, one day I'm going to be an author." Because I was doing graphic design at the time, and I do love graphic design.

But then I thought, "You know what? Writing's always been that thing that I used to go to when I just needed an outlet." A friend of mine actually told me, "Well, why don't you write and then put it up on Watt Pad? Because it's free. And you can see if people engage with you and things like that." That's where I started actually putting my work out there for other people to read. I worked on Watt Pad for about a year and a half before I actually published.

James Blatch: All that writing you did before that point was just for you, it was just your own?

Dani Rene: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I hid that away. That was my stories. I think, also, it was just that fear of saying, "Here's a story I wrote. Read it."

James Blatch: Yeah, of course. Especially when you're younger and perhaps ... And if you're not academic ... And I wasn't at school, actually, either. It can effect your confidence, which is silly. Our school systems are so geared around being academic and most people aren't, actually, and most people contribute to life in different ways. But, there you go. That's a different conversation. Okay.

You went up to Watt Pad and I'm assuming you got a good reception?

Dani Rene: I did. I started doing fan fiction then and I figured, "Well, let me try this out, see how it goes." I think I put up maybe three stories and a few of friends that I made through there said to me ... They were actually the ones to say to me, "Well, why don't you self-publish?" And I said, "What? How do you do that?" Because obviously growing up, the books I bought were all traditionally published. It was Penguin Books and those kinds of things. I thought, "Okay. Well, let me research this, because this sounds interesting."

That started an almost six months long journey of researching. Because in South Africa, we can't use our banking details on Amazon. It was just finding all these ways of actually doing it, but making sure that you do it all properly, instead of just taking a chance and that kind of thing.

James Blatch: When was this, Dani? What year was this when you were searching?

Dani Rene: 2015.

James Blatch: Okay.

Dani Rene: From about January through to about June, I just spent time online researching, trying to read up as much as I could about self-publishing. Because I'd never heard of it before that.

James Blatch: And did you find there were quite a few areas that were specific to you, because you're in South Africa, that were different from what you were reading of people's experiences perhaps in the US?

Dani Rene: Yeah, there was. The main thing, obviously, was finding an editor. Because funny enough, obviously growing up, I grew up writing and learning how to do it in British English. And when I started writing, I started writing American English, so finding an editor who would actually help me hone that skill.

And then, obviously, being in South Africa, Amazon doesn't pay us directly with Fire bank deposits, so I had to figure out how to get paid via Amazon because the option was a check that they post to you.

James Blatch: Wow.

Dani Rene: And I thought, "Oh, I don't trust our postal system." Because we've always just heard, "Oh, this parcel goes missing or that parcel goes missing." And I thought, "I don't really want to take that chance."

Then I found out about Payoneer, which was available to South Africans, which gave us a US bank account, as such, so we can still get paid and then withdraw the money into our bank accounts locally. It was a bit of a roundabout way.

James Blatch: I hadn't realised that that was a thing, that Amazon doesn't pay into South African bank accounts. Is that still the case?

Dani Rene: It is still the case, yeah. Basically, what we have to do is, we go through Payoneer and Payoneer sets up an account for us to use on Amazon. And then from there, we can link our South African bank account, so we can then withdraw the money in there.

James Blatch: And how's that work with tax? Because in the UK, we get the tax exemption. Do you get that still?

Dani Rene: Yeah. We do get a US tax exemption. Basically, once I withdraw my money from Payoneer to my bank account locally, I then get the tax and I work it out. Because we have a self-employed tax service, where we make sure that we get all the forms that Amazon sends us at the end of the tax year, and then we go into the tax website and upload everything, and then declare our income, and all of that. It's quite a mission. I hate doing taxes. We can either do twice a year, or we have to do annually. It's up to us how we do that.

James Blatch: And in terms of otherwise creating your KDP accounts and so on, all of that is the same as it would be for me in the UK, creating a .com account and whatever?

Dani Rene: Yeah. Everything is exactly the same. It's just the banking side.

James Blatch: Okay. You got into this self-publishing world.

How did you plan your release strategy in your writing during this period that you're researching the business side of it?

Dani Rene: Well, it was quite funny, because I read up on pre-orders and I put the book up on pre-order thinking, "Okay. That's it. That's what you do." And I have to say, whenever I do any sort of teaching or someone asks me advice, I say, "Please don't do what I did."

I put the book up there and just went, "Okay. It's on Amazon now." Because I didn't know anything about marketing, because when I'd been researching, it was more the KDP side and how to actually get the book up there. But the marketing was nonexistent to me at that point. And slowly, after the first release, I learned about PR companies and book bloggers and reviews, and I was like, "Wow. This is a whole world," because if you're not in the community, you don't actually realise it's there.

James Blatch: You had a cover and so on, presumably?

Dani Rene: Yes. I had the cover. I had formatted the document, per the guidelines on Amazon, and I uploaded it. And it sort of sat there and had maybe 10 sales.

James Blatch: Okay. It wasn't very visible. But, had you had the book edited?

Dani Rene: Yes. Yeah.

James Blatch: Okay.

Dani Rene: I found an editor.

James Blatch: As far as you were concerned, the book was okay. It's just, you didn't really know what you were doing in terms of getting visibility?

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Which is not an uncommon story. And you're here talking to us today, but there are plenty of people who never move beyond that, probably, and have good books that just sit there languishing. But, there you go, that's the difference. Isn't it?

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Okay. At some point then, you decided to get involved in this mysterious art of marketing.

Dani Rene: Yes.

James Blatch: What did you do then that made a difference?

Dani Rene: The first thing that I actually found was finding a good PR company. Because I then found out through a blogger who found my book ... I posted a live now image on Instagram saying, "My book's live," and a book blogger had randomly found me. She introduced herself, said, "I'm a book blogger. I'd like to review your book." And I was like, "Oh, okay."

And then I started Googling book bloggers, reviews, and that kind of thing and that's when I found there's all these PR companies who run blog tours and that kind of thing. And that's when I contacted Enticing Journey and I said, "I have literally just released a book. I don't know what I'm doing. Please help." And they've been with me throughout my entire five years now. And they gave me the advice of, "We're going to try and get as many reviews up." And they gave me advice.

Then I hit Facebook, because then they said, "Do you have your Facebook page." And I said, "I have a page, but I have maybe 10 likes, I don't know." And that's where I found other authors who were indie authors and 90% of them were US-based. I didn't find any local South African indie authors. And I started networking.

I thought, "You know what? If I'm going to make this happen, I need to get my name out there somehow." I networked with a lot of authors who were new to me and they gave me advice and explained about marketing, and promotions on social media, and making sure my website's set up and that kind of thing.

I was definitely a learning curve, because obviously coming from a more corporate side where I was working as a graphic designer all the years, I mean, I learned marketing as a company. But for myself, I had no clue. So it took some time. But within that first year, I came from having 10 sales to actually being able to market a book and release.

James Blatch: How did the sales follow?

Dani Rene: Actually, as I started marketing, I could actually see an uptick. At that point, I didn't run any ads or anything, because I didn't really know about it. But, from just being online and chatting about, "Oo, my book's live. My book's live." And sharing it and with other author's help, I managed to find some readers. Some of them are still with me now as my street team who promote my books.

It was definitely one of those things where you need to dive in at the deep end and just not be scared to tell people your book's out there. I did definitely with my next release, I made sure that I had a blog tour. And so, bloggers signed up for it. And then I started promoting on Facebook and Instagram. Those were my two main social media channels.

James Blatch: Blog tours and PR companies are, certainly in the UK and the US, I think you hear they're less relevant than they used to be. But, it seems to me like it was quite a key part of your success.

Dani Rene: It was at that time. This was early 2016. The first book I published was December 2015. 2016, I found that the blog tours introduced me to bloggers who didn't know who I was and they took a chance. Because obviously, they're getting an ARC file. They're not spending money on a book that they might not know. And I found that a lot of the bloggers, since then, have continued to sign up for my books.

I think with blog tours, it just depends on the company you use, because I still see them as a very helpful tool to use, especially if you're a new author or if you're just trying to get more visibility on your book.

James Blatch: Yeah. At that very early stage.

And the PR companies, they are still with you. What have they done for you?

Dani Rene: Well, they've actually helped grow my reader base. And I quite like the fact that admin side of running a blog tour, because it's a lot of work because you have to contact all the bloggers, you have to send out the ARCs, you have to do all of that. And they handle that. And then what they do is they'll send me the review links as they come in and they'll send me who signed up, who's reviewing, who's not reviewing, who's sharing the cover, that kind of thing.

They do the admin side, which is nice. Because for me personally, I just want to sit and write the book. But also, that side of things, it's nice to have a relationship with people like that because they can then offer advice. And with them, they have really grown my following, obviously bloggers have found me and readers have found me, so it's good.

James Blatch: Do you pay a retainer to them a month or is it a percentage?

Dani Rene: Basically, what I do is when I have release dates and cover reveal dates set, then I just contact them and say, "Can you set up a blog tour for me for these dates? This is the blurb of the book." And they'll set up the sign up form and things like that.

James Blatch: Okay.

Dani Rene: I pay per release. I know some authors do have a PR company that they pay monthly.

James Blatch: The old retainer. Okay.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Where are you today? I can see on Amazon, there's some great reviews. There's some pretty good placements in the charts.

Can you give us an idea of where you are today in terms of sales?

Dani Rene: If I compare 2016, then 2020, there's a massive difference. The spike happened last year, I would say. I saw my sales growing gradually, and then last year I started writing darker romance, and the grittier stories, and I found, I think, that's my niche. And I quite enjoy discovering readers have followed me on and last year, especially, I just had the spike happen. And I would say that comes from writing a series.

I feel that once you have a really good series, readers will then find that, they'll buy each of the books, because they're invested, and then they'll buy your other books. Because I started off with standalones, thinking, "Oh, yeah. Just one book, that's fine."

But as I started doing research and looking at other authors, I noticed that series really do bring your readers to you. Yeah, so then last year I did a seven book series and it was based around one circle of friends. I think that's where I actually got most of my readers from. The sales have definitely gone up.

James Blatch: Can you give us a rough idea ... You don't have to give us specific figures, of where you are?

Dani Rene: Last year, I was four figures per month. This year was my first five figures monthly.

James Blatch: Fantastic. And is that the Twisted Steel series that you did last year?

Dani Rene: No, it's actually Sins of Seven.

James Blatch: Okay.

Dani Rene: They're black covers with gemstones and things on it.

James Blatch: Dark romance. You've got to clue me in on what dark romance is.

Dani Rene: Okay. That particular series is actually BDSM romantic suspense and that kind of thing. But, there's a whole genre that we call dark romance, where you write I suppose grittier stories. Like your mafia, your motorcycle club romances, things like that. There's quite a few authors that touch on the trafficking that happens and readers do know it's coming from real life almost, but just reading it and seeing how your female character heals from a terrible past or something, I think it sort of gives them hope.

James Blatch: The male leads, are they the bad boys, or is it the cop, or does it change?

Dani Rene: It depends. Generally, it's normally the guy who saves her. And there are some stories where it is the bad guy, but then you see him redeem himself because he realises, "This is not good," or whatever. They like seeing the bad boy get redeemed.

James Blatch: Of course, so everybody lived happily ever after, which is what we read romances for. Okay. Well, let's talk a little bit about your writing process then, Dani. Congratulations, by the way, on your success. That's fantastic.

Dani Rene: Thank you.

James Blatch: And I think you're quite right to really focus on series there. Commercially, it can make all the difference.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: You published how many books last year?

Dani Rene: Oo, good question. I think it was 10, if I'm not mistaken. I think so.

James Blatch: So, nearly a book a month. You write every day, I assume?

Dani Rene: I do, yeah. Last year, March, I actually quit my job. I was able to quit my job with my income. Now I write every day. Basically, I'm not a plotter at all. I'm very much, I sit down at my computer and start writing. Everybody always ask me how I'm able to do it, but I do tend to jump around manuscripts. I'll start working on one and I might get an idea for the other story and I quickly jump to that one and write the scene down. I tend to do that quite a lot and I suppose that's how I can write a lot of books in that time span.

My process is pretty much, in the mornings I try and get through emails and do admin. And then I spend the day all the way to about 5:00 in the evening just writing.

James Blatch: Do you have a word count target for yourself?

Dani Rene: It depends on deadlines. If I've got a specific deadline or if there's a release that's planned for a specific date, then I try and get about 5,000 words a day. And then the odd days where I feel a story's just flowing and I can easily get up to 10,000 words a day.

James Blatch: Wow.

Dani Rene: I haven't got more than that, though.

James Blatch: That's amazing. And you're writing on a keyboard in Scrivener or are you dictating?

Dani Rene: I write on my laptop and I generally use Word, but I do use Scrivener sometimes every now and again, if I feel like a change of scenery I'll open that up. Generally, just Word on my laptop.

James Blatch: Keep it fresh.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Now, your covers are very striking. Do you source them in South Africa? Have you got people online doing them for you as well?

Dani Rene: Most of my covers I do myself. Because I'm a graphic designer.

James Blatch: Yes, you said that.

Dani Rene: I have worked with cover designers, actually in the UK. She is actually a fine artist and I find some of her covers are quite striking with the way she paints on them. I have got a few covers from her. But, I generally do them myself, because I know my deadline and if I want the cover done now, then I can do it now.

James Blatch: Yeah. And again, it's another change of scenery, isn't it? I get the feeling you're somebody who likes to have a little break from one thing and move onto another.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: I think that works for me as well. Nice. And what about outside of eBooks and prints on demand? First of all, I think you're probably exclusively ... You're not, looking at this.

Are you in KU?

Dani Rene: Some of my books are and then there are some that are wide.

James Blatch: Oh, okay. You do do some wide.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: And audiobooks?

Dani Rene: I have got a handful of audiobooks. I've got three with Tantor audio. I'm actually currently looking for narrators for another one. But I've done four myself through Findaway Voices. Because once again, in South Africa, we can't use Audible directly.

James Blatch: Right.

Dani Rene: Or ACX. I go through Findaway Voices and they distribute to everyone. So I've done a few myself and then obviously Tantor signed three of them from me as well.

James Blatch: In terms of Findaway, and they're different ways of doing it, and we've actually just done a deal with Tantor as well for the books in our imprint.

Dani Rene: Okay.

James Blatch: But I was just researching doing them myself and ... Not myself, but organising it myself.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: And I was looking at Findaway's model of basically using them as the production organisation, select the voice, and then you end up with the completed unit which are yours to distribute as you wish at that point, so you could then go with Audible or whatever.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Was that what you were looking at before? Is that what you did with Findaway or did you do the deal where they also do the distribution?

Dani Rene: I actually just had them do everything. I uploaded the files and then found the narrator that I wanted to use. And then, there was obviously the option of "Here's all your files" and I just thought, "Well, it's going to just be easier to have them do it, because they know where to put them and that kind of thing."

Because as a South African, I can't actually go onto ACX, create an account, and upload my files. I thought, "Let them do it directly to Amazon." And then I figured, "Well, if they're going to do it through to ACX, then I may as well just do all the other channels." So, they've done it all for me. And it's really been an easy process. I'm happy with the way they work and everything.

James Blatch: It's quite frustrating, some of this, isn't it? Being in South Africa.

Dani Rene: It is.

James Blatch: I don't know how similar this to other countries outside the UK, US. But, it must be a bit annoying.

Do you have virtual private networks, these VPNs you can set yourself up pretending you're in another country? Is that something you've looked into?

Dani Rene: I was looking into it, but obviously, on the tax forms and things like that, I need to put in my South African tax number-

James Blatch: Sure.

Dani Rene: ... and all of that. I figured, "I may as well just ... " I'm used to finding roundabout ways, like using Findaway and that kind of thing. I know there are a few local authors popping up now that I've helped and everything. And hopefully, just offering that advice that ... The mistakes I've found, or the issues I've found sort of helps them.

For me personally, I quite like having Findaway as almost the third-party, because then if I want to remove a book, I can just go onto one storefront and go, "Okay. Remove it from here." Whereas, if you go anywhere else, it's like, "Oh, I have to go to this one separately, then that one." And it's the same with Barnes & Noble, because we can't publish directly to Barnes & Noble, so I use Draft2Digital.

James Blatch: Yes. Oh, they're great.

Dani Rene: And they then do the libraries, like Scribd and all of that for me as well.

James Blatch: I guess in your situation, those aggregates, like D2D and Findaway really come into their own, open up the market to you.

Dani Rene: Yes.

James Blatch: In terms of sales for audiobooks, is it an important part of your income stream?

Dani Rene: Not really. I suppose also it's just I haven't marketed them as much as I do my eBooks. I would say, comparatively, 90% of my sales are eBook. I then possibly have 5% between paperback and audio. I know audio's quite big. I see a lot of romance readers or listeners now enjoy audio, so I think once the series is actually completed into audio, I might just market properly. I've been terrible at marketing my audiobooks.

James Blatch: It's a different type of marketing as well. Let's just finish with marketing.

What are you doing at the moment in terms of ads and marketing?

Dani Rene: I work on Facebook ads and then I run BookBub ads as well. I found them both very beneficial for me or for my genre. I have tested out AMS ads or Amazon ads, but I have to actually sit down and look at it, because I find that that's more difficult to me, or I found them more expensive than Facebook and BookBub. I don't know. But, I did sign up for the course, Ads for Authors course, so I'm busy going through those now. Because I would like to, obviously, advertise on Amazon.

Also, it's quite difficult, romance-wise, because a lot of my covers used to have couples on them and Amazon doesn't like when you have couples on a cover and that kind of thing. I just have to try and also rebrand so that I can advertise on these sites.

James Blatch: I can see a lot of naked male torsos when I glance down your list. But that's okay, you can have those. But, yes. You do start to bump up against their guidelines and they want to keep it clean over there. Great. Well, look. I mean, I want to say congratulations, Dani. From a standing start and by your own admission, naïve and clueless, which is probably where we all start, right?

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: It's a big wide world of self-publishing out there that you're not born knowing about. And you've gone to being USA Today best-seller, and I can look down your list and see the success looking out at me. And five figure months, that's fantastic. That must be ... And last time I was in South Africa, because of the exchange rate, money went a long way.

Dani Rene: Yes, it does.

James Blatch: Somebody making five figures in Washington DC and South Africa, you're in a nice position, which is fantastic.

Dani Rene: Yeah. No, it has been. It definitely was, first, surprising and then it's one of those things where you're struggling by, struggling by trying to figure this out and then suddenly, something just hits and then the sales go up and you go wow. And obviously, the exchange rate has been very, very welcome.

James Blatch: Yes.

Dani Rene: Which is helpful. But, yeah. It's been very good. And I have to say, and this is what I always tell authors when I do workshops, is that it's definitely not an overnight thing and you have to work at it. You have to produce a quality product. You need to make sure that it looks good and, of course, it's edited and that kind of thing. It is a lot of work.

James Blatch: Is there any scope for writing in Afrikaans? I don't know if you speak Afrikaans?

Dani Rene: I do speak it. I learned it at school, but I'm terrible. I can't translate in my head fast enough, so even when ... Like locally, if someone's speaking Afrikaans to me, I change and answer in English. But, there is a big Afrikaans romance market, but then, I would have to go to a translator and have them do it. Because I definitely can't write Afrikaans.

James Blatch: That's interesting. Because I imagine that if you're organised and good as you are, if you happen to have been Afrikaans you could be a big fish in a smaller market there. Because it is widely spoken, Afrikaans, in South Africa?

Dani Rene: It is, yeah.

James Blatch: Half the country speak it a lot, don't they?

Dani Rene: Yeah, yeah. And I know a few Afrikaans authors. They're with traditional publishers, though. But, yeah. I mean, they do really well. They write in Afrikaans, obviously. One of the ladies is bilingual. I would definitely have to find a translator and all of that.

James Blatch: Yeah, I was just wondering if you happened to have been Afrikaans, because they always ... Not everyone knows this, but half of South Africa's English. South African half is Afrikaans, half African.

Dani Rene: It is.

James Blatch: Actually, I don't even know if it's 50/50, but it's not always clear to me when I'm speaking to people who speaks what language.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Apart from sometimes that Afrikaans person who refuses to speak any English to you, which happens occasionally. It happened occasionally to me while I was there.

Dani Rene: Oh, no.

James Blatch: It is a bit like Dutch, isn't it?

Dani Rene: Yes. Yeah. One of my readers actually said ... Because the one day she posted something on Facebook and I managed to respond in Afrikaans, and she said, "Oh, I understand that." The Dutch people always tell us we sound like their kids when they're learning to speak Dutch.

James Blatch: Right. Yeah, yeah.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: And Dutch is a language you can't guess at.

Dani Rene: No.

James Blatch: You need to know it. Okay. Look, brilliant. Dani, it's been really lovely speaking to you. Congratulations again on your success. Stay in touch, we'll see how you grow. Sounds like this is your time now. You've blown up in the last couple of years.

Dani Rene: Thank you.

James Blatch: I see only good things in your future.

Dani Rene: Thank you.

James Blatch: Sounds sort of mystic.

Dani Rene: Thank you so much.

James Blatch: I guess there is a bias towards America and Britain as well. So it probably punches above its weight in terms of technology leaders. Even in France and Belgium, actually, not speaking English, there are some hurdles that you and I don't necessarily fully appreciate or know about to think about.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, that's true. Even Aussies and Kiwis I think have issues with predominant demand, because as far as I know anyway, there's no print sale in Australia or New Zealand. Whereas, when I've been to the print centre in Milton Keynes, I think there's one in Poland. Obviously, there's lots in the States. I don't think there's one in Australia. I might be wrong. If there is, it's only recent. Those kinds of things are providing issues that they have to get over that we don't have to deal with over here. Yeah, it can be challenging.

And things like advertising as well, and also, ACX. I mean, they can't access ACX if you're not in the UK or the US. I think is the only two countries that you can get into an ACX for. There are issues that need to be surmounted. But there are clever people out there making it easy for people to take advantage of those kinds of options that we take for granted.

James Blatch: Yes, indeed. Well, I really enjoyed talking to Dani and I'm very impressed with her set up. If you have to look at her website and her books, she's spot on, gets everything right. And has a couple of social and cultural issues to deal with in South Africa. A big section of White South Africa is quite conservative. The other's slightly more liberal and English. And she trends a line and she's bumped up against a few issues there, which can't always be easy, but she does a great job and well done to her, Dani.

One day, when we can travel again, we'll add South Africa to the list of want-to-go-places for the team SPF term. I don't know if we're every going to get out of this island again. This could be it now.

Mark Dawson: Could be, yeah. But, the reason I'm recording this today is Mrs. Dawson and me are going away for the night. There's a very nice hotel in New Forest, so we're going to be relaxing. And also, especially because it's only 27 degrees here today.

James Blatch: It's amazing.

Mark Dawson: Very nice.

James Blatch: Yeah, September's going to be 29, I think, today here in Huntington, so really warm.

Mark Dawson: Wow.

James Blatch: Good. Sans enfants?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, no children. They're being looked after by their grandparents, so we will be having a relaxing time over the next couple of days.

James Blatch: I'd liked to see the look on Lucy's face when you sneak the golf clubs into the back of the car.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, nor do I. I'm not doing that. I played twice over the weekend. But, yeah. I'll be reading a lot, so we'll be lying by the pool and doing some reading.

James Blatch: Me too. I'm reading an exciting new Craig Martel book at the moment, which I'm loving.

Mark Dawson: Ah, very good.

James Blatch: Which I may talk about in the near future. Good. Okay. Thank you very much indeed, Mark. I want to say thank you again to Dani for joining us on the show today.

And don't forget, you can go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. And as Mark said, if you want to keep your ears to the ground on stuff happening that can effect your sales and your marketing, do join our Facebook group. I think it's called SPF Secret Group, but if you just search, "Self-publishing formula," on Facebook, you will find it. There's some genre-specific groups there for you as well.

101 opens on Wednesday, so we're going to be busy bunnies. Selfpublishingshowformula.com/101. And we've got some good interviews coming up. Doing loads at the moment, so some good stuff to talk about. We'll talk all about female Tornado pilot, which I'm still very excited about, coming your way at mach two.

Mark Dawson: I'm sure you are.

James Blatch: Mach two any moment now. Okay. Thank you very much, indeed. All that remains for me to say is it's goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

Announcer: Get show notes, the podcast archive, and free resources to boost your writing career at selfpublishingshow.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at selfpublishingshow.com/facebook. Support the show at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. And join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author. Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world and join the revolution with The Self Publishing Show.

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SPS-227: Pro Writing Aid – The Personal Trainer for Authors – with Chris Banks


Chris Banks knows from personal experience how challenging it can be for an author to take their writing from good to great. He’s created ProWriting Aid to do just that; creating a tool that does much more than just correct your grammar.

Show Notes

  • Getting real time feedback on your writing with ProWriting Aid
  • The different types of reports ProWriting Aid offers
  • Making improvements to your book before you send it to an editor
  • Integrating with writing tools like Scrivener and Word
  • How AI is affecting how we read and write, and what the future might hold
  • The differences between ProWriting Aid and Grammarly

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

WEBINAR: Latest on Amazon Ads with Janet Margo. Reserve your seat here.

WEBINAR: The Three Secrets of Bestselling Authors with Suzy Quinn. Reserve your seat here.

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-244: Self Publishing in South Africa - with Dani René

Announcer: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show ...

Dani Rene: And slowly, after the first release, I learned about PR companies and book bloggers and reviews, and I was like, "Wow. This is a whole world," because if you're not in the community, you don't actually realise it's there.

Announcer: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. With me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. Not in my office today.

James Blatch: Not in your office, in your home office, which is where everyone is now. The new normal. Welcome to our world. We've been home office-ing for years. We don't need a disease to work from home.

Mark Dawson: That's very true, yes. Actually, I've been here for quite a lot since lockdown eased. But it's quite nice to be home today.

James Blatch: Yes. You have an office in town, of course. WeWork and Regus in the UK are these companies, are probably a good investment area because people will eventually scale down the big offices in London. There's no question, I think, about that. They'll still want them there, but there'll be a lot more working from home.

I've had two friends ... In fact, one yesterday, come around to look at this garden office, because they're very quickly working out that, particularly if you're in a small-ish house, it's difficult to work all day at home. You need a bit of space to yourself. I think investment opportunities there. The garden office company, Regus and WeWork.

WeWork's never made any money, but it might. I mean, they've got a slightly eccentric ... I don't know if you ever look at this guy, a slightly eccentric owner.

Mark Dawson: I do know about him, yes. He got into quite a lot of trouble, didn't he? His wife's a little bit odd as well.

James Blatch: But he might've fallen on his feet suddenly because of COVID, but there we go.

Okay, look, let me welcome a couple of Patreon supporters. I'm going to say Patreon from now on, I think, if I can remember to do that, rather than Patreon. And we are going to say a very warm welcome to Joshua McManners from Cambridgeshire. In fact, I think he's just down the road from me, Joshua. Welcome to being a Patreon supporter of The Self Publishing Show. And also to Melissa from California in the United States of America. Thank you very much.

You can go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow to support the show and you get a load of goodies. It's all there on the page, but you get everything first, and a few goodies thrown in.

We mentioned our one-on-one course. It opens next Wednesday. You can go to selfpublishingformula.com/101 from Wednesday 10:00 PM UK time. That's ... When is that? In the afternoon in New York. Something like that.

Mark Dawson: Don't ask me.

James Blatch: Something like 5:00 in the afternoon, New York. A little bit earlier in the West Coast, and the next morning in Australia, because they're in the future. And we're looking forward to opening the gates for 101, welcoming on a clutch of a new, enthusiastic students who can join me in being a first time author. It never gets old with that.

Mark Dawson: Many of them will be first time authors before you, I suspect.

James Blatch: Maybe. I'm doing well on my second book, you'll be pleased to know, so I've now got two unpublished books.

Mark Dawson: Excellent. Very good.

James Blatch: Redneck is going well. Good. Okay. What else are we going to say? We're going to say, we have a little bit of a podcast Self-Publishing Show announcement today, do we not, Mark?

Mark Dawson: We do, yes. As we record this on Monday before the Friday, we are at one million, 996 thousand downloads. By the time this goes out, we will have gone through two million downloads, which is an achievement, I think. It's a milestone to celebrate.

James Blatch: Yeah, it is.

Mark Dawson: Thanks to everyone who has downloaded ... How many episodes have we done now? What is it, 237?

James Blatch: 240, I think.

Mark Dawson: 240.

James Blatch: 244 maybe this might be?

Mark Dawson: Yeah. Thanks to everyone who's downloaded and listened today. Some people have listened to all of them, so pity those poor people who listen to us faffing around at the start when we didn't know what we were doing, trying to interview people between the two of us, which was a disaster.

James Blatch: It wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't optimal. It was sub-optimal.

Mark Dawson: It was a disaster. Thanks to everyone who's been around. Some people start from the start, some people will just pick up the latest ones. We appreciate every single one of our listeners. It's lovely to be able to do this for you.

James Blatch: We really do. And, yeah, two million downloads, I think, is a good achievement. Of course, it could be 10 people who've downloaded it 200,000 times each.

Mark Dawson: I don't think it works like that. I suppose technically it's possible.

James Blatch: We have loyal fans who listen to every word and lots of other people who dip in and out. And I know from occasionally when we've said something or had a guest, it gets a little spike interest, that there's a wider community, because you hear some of the Twitter-ati talking and quoting us. I think we've seeped into the indie consciousness as part of the furniture, I guess, is what I'm trying to say.

We've done 101. We've down our Patreons. We've welcomed our two millionth download with the red tape cutting.

Anything else to report this week? Shall we mention, there's been some chatter in our groups and other groups about some Amazon links, shenanigans with Facebook? We haven't really got to the bottom of it, but there's a kind of don't panic from you, I think, coming out of this.

Mark Dawson: We mentioned it last week, didn't we? Nothing really much has happened since then. Just very, very briefly to reiterate the message from last week was, there's some concern that Facebook is no longer allowing links and ads to Amazon, which again, made no sense when we heard about this. I still don't think this is true.

The latest I heard was that someone claimed Amazon.co.uk in their business manager which meant that no one else could use it.

James Blatch: Oh, hilarious.

Mark Dawson: That can't be true. That just can't be true. And also, just remember of course that authors are not the only people sending Facebook traffic to Amazon. Everyone selling things is sending traffic to Amazon. I don't think that's true.

I've seen some responses from Facebook support, obviously all contradictory. But I've seen some acknowledging that this is an issue, a known issue, it's being dealt with. And I've seen in the community ads are being switched on again.

My ads to the UK went off on Saturday. They all got shut down. I re-enabled them on Sunday and they're all running. I think it might have passed. But it has been really bumpy with Facebook over the last two to three weeks. I think it will be bumpy all the way through November now, until the US election is out of the way. I think it's going to be quite a bumpy time for that platform in particular.

James Blatch: What about the six months of legal wrangling after the election?

Mark Dawson: I think, well, after that point, I don't think anybody will be concerned about Russians using Facebook ads to influence one way or the other. Yeah, there'll be some dust to settle, but hopefully things will calm down by then. And from my perspective, at the moment, it seems okay. But don't be surprised if there are other issues as we push on, and just check into the SPF community for reports of issues.

And also, if you're finding something, it's always worth doing a quick search. Because there were maybe, I don't know, half a dozen new threads started by people who hadn't done that and missed out on quite long threads explaining what had happened and what we thought the reasons were. It's always worth doing a quick search.

I understand people are posting because it's quite concerning, especially when several authors were saying that basically my business relies on Facebook ads and suddenly I can't advertise. Fairly significant and concerning for people like that. But for that kind of stuff, we'll always post it in the group, so it's definitely the first place to look.

James Blatch: Yeah. Definitely worth being there, our Facebook groups. Search Self Publishing Formula on Facebook. Yeah. And for the record, Fuse campaigns have never been affected by this. I'm running to Amazon on both .co.uk and .com using [gande.is] links. Whether that makes a difference, I don't know. But, yeah. They've not been. But Tom Ashford came a cropper. Our view own Tom, who's now selling his own books and doing very well with them. Yes, he had a little temper tantrum, didn't he? Said, "This is not on." And he got shut down.

Mark Dawson: Yes, he did. Yeah.

James Blatch: Bless him. Okay. Now, somebody who knows all about this world, has sold a shed-load of books, has done really well is our interviewee today. Her name is Dani Rene. She sells top books like ... I guess you'd probably just slip into at the weekend, Mark? Sort of male BDSM spicy romance. While She Sleeps, is one of them. A Cut So Deep. I love her titles. The Devil's Play Thing.

Mark Dawson: You're really tearing us apart just now.

James Blatch: Semi-biographical perhaps for Dawson. Lots of naked torsos on show. Now, Dani is actually in South Africa, in lovely Cape Town. And a lot of this interview is a bit about not being in America, not being in the UK, which are the two, as I think I said in the interview, the two that spike places for sales on an Amazon survey at the moment, or that is changing. And when you're not in those two territories, which get a lot of the things first. They get a lot of the front-end first. They get a lot of bells and whistles.

When you're outside of that zone, life can be slightly more complicated, particularly in South Africa, as Dani explains. So, some good tips about if you're not in America and the UK, how to continue and make the most of your marketing to those big territories. And also, just a bit about being Dani Rene, being a successful writer, a young woman who's done really well. Very excited for her. Let's hear it from Dani.

Dani Rene, welcome to the Self Publishing Show from beautiful Cape Town.

Dani Rene: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

James Blatch: You're very welcome. In fact, the odd thing is, despite the fact that you're ... I don't know how far, eight, 10,000 miles away?

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: We're about in the same timezone, aren't we? Because we run down North, South.

Dani Rene: Yeah. We're about an hours difference at the moment, I think it is, because it's midday here now.

James Blatch: There you go. 11:00 in the morning, so that makes a difference for me. It's usually dark outside and it's sunny whenever I'm talking to somebody. But, here we go. Good.

Dani, we're going to talk a bit about you. I think we'll talk a bit about being in South Africa and this will probably be helpful for people in Canada, and Australia, and New Zealand and places that aren't the US, basically, and the UK.

The UK and the US are big spike markets for eBook sales in particular. When you operate outside of those markets, obviously you're feeding into them. But, we'll talk a bit about what it's like from there.

Why don't you tell us a little bit about your background and when you got going with writing?

Dani Rene: Okay. I started writing when I was probably about 12 or 13. And I started writing really short stories in little notebooks that I kept and I started writing paranormal, actually, because I always read paranormal. I thought, "Well, I can try this out." And I found it quite fun, because it was almost an outlet.

I've always had a creative mindset. I wasn't very academic. I didn't enjoy school very much. I liked the art side of things. And then, I wrote until I was about at college. And then after college, before I started working, because I studied art, so once again, the creative side.

I went over to the UK. I spent a couple years working, travelling around and doing the gap year, I guess. And then, it was only when I got back home and I started working again and I had the time on my hands where in the evenings I'd sit down and jot notes out and things like that. And I never thought, "Oo, one day I'm going to be an author." Because I was doing graphic design at the time, and I do love graphic design.

But then I thought, "You know what? Writing's always been that thing that I used to go to when I just needed an outlet." A friend of mine actually told me, "Well, why don't you write and then put it up on Watt Pad? Because it's free. And you can see if people engage with you and things like that." That's where I started actually putting my work out there for other people to read. I worked on Watt Pad for about a year and a half before I actually published.

James Blatch: All that writing you did before that point was just for you, it was just your own?

Dani Rene: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I hid that away. That was my stories. I think, also, it was just that fear of saying, "Here's a story I wrote. Read it."

James Blatch: Yeah, of course. Especially when you're younger and perhaps ... And if you're not academic ... And I wasn't at school, actually, either. It can effect your confidence, which is silly. Our school systems are so geared around being academic and most people aren't, actually, and most people contribute to life in different ways. But, there you go. That's a different conversation. Okay.

You went up to Watt Pad and I'm assuming you got a good reception?

Dani Rene: I did. I started doing fan fiction then and I figured, "Well, let me try this out, see how it goes." I think I put up maybe three stories and a few of friends that I made through there said to me ... They were actually the ones to say to me, "Well, why don't you self-publish?" And I said, "What? How do you do that?" Because obviously growing up, the books I bought were all traditionally published. It was Penguin Books and those kinds of things. I thought, "Okay. Well, let me research this, because this sounds interesting."

That started an almost six months long journey of researching. Because in South Africa, we can't use our banking details on Amazon. It was just finding all these ways of actually doing it, but making sure that you do it all properly, instead of just taking a chance and that kind of thing.

James Blatch: When was this, Dani? What year was this when you were searching?

Dani Rene: 2015.

James Blatch: Okay.

Dani Rene: From about January through to about June, I just spent time online researching, trying to read up as much as I could about self-publishing. Because I'd never heard of it before that.

James Blatch: And did you find there were quite a few areas that were specific to you, because you're in South Africa, that were different from what you were reading of people's experiences perhaps in the US?

Dani Rene: Yeah, there was. The main thing, obviously, was finding an editor. Because funny enough, obviously growing up, I grew up writing and learning how to do it in British English. And when I started writing, I started writing American English, so finding an editor who would actually help me hone that skill.

And then, obviously, being in South Africa, Amazon doesn't pay us directly with Fire bank deposits, so I had to figure out how to get paid via Amazon because the option was a check that they post to you.

James Blatch: Wow.

Dani Rene: And I thought, "Oh, I don't trust our postal system." Because we've always just heard, "Oh, this parcel goes missing or that parcel goes missing." And I thought, "I don't really want to take that chance."

Then I found out about Payoneer, which was available to South Africans, which gave us a US bank account, as such, so we can still get paid and then withdraw the money into our bank accounts locally. It was a bit of a roundabout way.

James Blatch: I hadn't realised that that was a thing, that Amazon doesn't pay into South African bank accounts. Is that still the case?

Dani Rene: It is still the case, yeah. Basically, what we have to do is, we go through Payoneer and Payoneer sets up an account for us to use on Amazon. And then from there, we can link our South African bank account, so we can then withdraw the money in there.

James Blatch: And how's that work with tax? Because in the UK, we get the tax exemption. Do you get that still?

Dani Rene: Yeah. We do get a US tax exemption. Basically, once I withdraw my money from Payoneer to my bank account locally, I then get the tax and I work it out. Because we have a self-employed tax service, where we make sure that we get all the forms that Amazon sends us at the end of the tax year, and then we go into the tax website and upload everything, and then declare our income, and all of that. It's quite a mission. I hate doing taxes. We can either do twice a year, or we have to do annually. It's up to us how we do that.

James Blatch: And in terms of otherwise creating your KDP accounts and so on, all of that is the same as it would be for me in the UK, creating a .com account and whatever?

Dani Rene: Yeah. Everything is exactly the same. It's just the banking side.

James Blatch: Okay. You got into this self-publishing world.

How did you plan your release strategy in your writing during this period that you're researching the business side of it?

Dani Rene: Well, it was quite funny, because I read up on pre-orders and I put the book up on pre-order thinking, "Okay. That's it. That's what you do." And I have to say, whenever I do any sort of teaching or someone asks me advice, I say, "Please don't do what I did."

I put the book up there and just went, "Okay. It's on Amazon now." Because I didn't know anything about marketing, because when I'd been researching, it was more the KDP side and how to actually get the book up there. But the marketing was nonexistent to me at that point. And slowly, after the first release, I learned about PR companies and book bloggers and reviews, and I was like, "Wow. This is a whole world," because if you're not in the community, you don't actually realise it's there.

James Blatch: You had a cover and so on, presumably?

Dani Rene: Yes. I had the cover. I had formatted the document, per the guidelines on Amazon, and I uploaded it. And it sort of sat there and had maybe 10 sales.

James Blatch: Okay. It wasn't very visible. But, had you had the book edited?

Dani Rene: Yes. Yeah.

James Blatch: Okay.

Dani Rene: I found an editor.

James Blatch: As far as you were concerned, the book was okay. It's just, you didn't really know what you were doing in terms of getting visibility?

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Which is not an uncommon story. And you're here talking to us today, but there are plenty of people who never move beyond that, probably, and have good books that just sit there languishing. But, there you go, that's the difference. Isn't it?

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Okay. At some point then, you decided to get involved in this mysterious art of marketing.

Dani Rene: Yes.

James Blatch: What did you do then that made a difference?

Dani Rene: The first thing that I actually found was finding a good PR company. Because I then found out through a blogger who found my book ... I posted a live now image on Instagram saying, "My book's live," and a book blogger had randomly found me. She introduced herself, said, "I'm a book blogger. I'd like to review your book." And I was like, "Oh, okay."

And then I started Googling book bloggers, reviews, and that kind of thing and that's when I found there's all these PR companies who run blog tours and that kind of thing. And that's when I contacted Enticing Journey and I said, "I have literally just released a book. I don't know what I'm doing. Please help." And they've been with me throughout my entire five years now. And they gave me the advice of, "We're going to try and get as many reviews up." And they gave me advice.

Then I hit Facebook, because then they said, "Do you have your Facebook page." And I said, "I have a page, but I have maybe 10 likes, I don't know." And that's where I found other authors who were indie authors and 90% of them were US-based. I didn't find any local South African indie authors. And I started networking.

I thought, "You know what? If I'm going to make this happen, I need to get my name out there somehow." I networked with a lot of authors who were new to me and they gave me advice and explained about marketing, and promotions on social media, and making sure my website's set up and that kind of thing.

I was definitely a learning curve, because obviously coming from a more corporate side where I was working as a graphic designer all the years, I mean, I learned marketing as a company. But for myself, I had no clue. So it took some time. But within that first year, I came from having 10 sales to actually being able to market a book and release.

James Blatch: How did the sales follow?

Dani Rene: Actually, as I started marketing, I could actually see an uptick. At that point, I didn't run any ads or anything, because I didn't really know about it. But, from just being online and chatting about, "Oo, my book's live. My book's live." And sharing it and with other author's help, I managed to find some readers. Some of them are still with me now as my street team who promote my books.

It was definitely one of those things where you need to dive in at the deep end and just not be scared to tell people your book's out there. I did definitely with my next release, I made sure that I had a blog tour. And so, bloggers signed up for it. And then I started promoting on Facebook and Instagram. Those were my two main social media channels.

James Blatch: Blog tours and PR companies are, certainly in the UK and the US, I think you hear they're less relevant than they used to be. But, it seems to me like it was quite a key part of your success.

Dani Rene: It was at that time. This was early 2016. The first book I published was December 2015. 2016, I found that the blog tours introduced me to bloggers who didn't know who I was and they took a chance. Because obviously, they're getting an ARC file. They're not spending money on a book that they might not know. And I found that a lot of the bloggers, since then, have continued to sign up for my books.

I think with blog tours, it just depends on the company you use, because I still see them as a very helpful tool to use, especially if you're a new author or if you're just trying to get more visibility on your book.

James Blatch: Yeah. At that very early stage.

And the PR companies, they are still with you. What have they done for you?

Dani Rene: Well, they've actually helped grow my reader base. And I quite like the fact that admin side of running a blog tour, because it's a lot of work because you have to contact all the bloggers, you have to send out the ARCs, you have to do all of that. And they handle that. And then what they do is they'll send me the review links as they come in and they'll send me who signed up, who's reviewing, who's not reviewing, who's sharing the cover, that kind of thing.

They do the admin side, which is nice. Because for me personally, I just want to sit and write the book. But also, that side of things, it's nice to have a relationship with people like that because they can then offer advice. And with them, they have really grown my following, obviously bloggers have found me and readers have found me, so it's good.

James Blatch: Do you pay a retainer to them a month or is it a percentage?

Dani Rene: Basically, what I do is when I have release dates and cover reveal dates set, then I just contact them and say, "Can you set up a blog tour for me for these dates? This is the blurb of the book." And they'll set up the sign up form and things like that.

James Blatch: Okay.

Dani Rene: I pay per release. I know some authors do have a PR company that they pay monthly.

James Blatch: The old retainer. Okay.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Where are you today? I can see on Amazon, there's some great reviews. There's some pretty good placements in the charts.

Can you give us an idea of where you are today in terms of sales?

Dani Rene: If I compare 2016, then 2020, there's a massive difference. The spike happened last year, I would say. I saw my sales growing gradually, and then last year I started writing darker romance, and the grittier stories, and I found, I think, that's my niche. And I quite enjoy discovering readers have followed me on and last year, especially, I just had the spike happen. And I would say that comes from writing a series.

I feel that once you have a really good series, readers will then find that, they'll buy each of the books, because they're invested, and then they'll buy your other books. Because I started off with standalones, thinking, "Oh, yeah. Just one book, that's fine."

But as I started doing research and looking at other authors, I noticed that series really do bring your readers to you. Yeah, so then last year I did a seven book series and it was based around one circle of friends. I think that's where I actually got most of my readers from. The sales have definitely gone up.

James Blatch: Can you give us a rough idea ... You don't have to give us specific figures, of where you are?

Dani Rene: Last year, I was four figures per month. This year was my first five figures monthly.

James Blatch: Fantastic. And is that the Twisted Steel series that you did last year?

Dani Rene: No, it's actually Sins of Seven.

James Blatch: Okay.

Dani Rene: They're black covers with gemstones and things on it.

James Blatch: Dark romance. You've got to clue me in on what dark romance is.

Dani Rene: Okay. That particular series is actually BDSM romantic suspense and that kind of thing. But, there's a whole genre that we call dark romance, where you write I suppose grittier stories. Like your mafia, your motorcycle club romances, things like that. There's quite a few authors that touch on the trafficking that happens and readers do know it's coming from real life almost, but just reading it and seeing how your female character heals from a terrible past or something, I think it sort of gives them hope.

James Blatch: The male leads, are they the bad boys, or is it the cop, or does it change?

Dani Rene: It depends. Generally, it's normally the guy who saves her. And there are some stories where it is the bad guy, but then you see him redeem himself because he realises, "This is not good," or whatever. They like seeing the bad boy get redeemed.

James Blatch: Of course, so everybody lived happily ever after, which is what we read romances for. Okay. Well, let's talk a little bit about your writing process then, Dani. Congratulations, by the way, on your success. That's fantastic.

Dani Rene: Thank you.

James Blatch: And I think you're quite right to really focus on series there. Commercially, it can make all the difference.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: You published how many books last year?

Dani Rene: Oo, good question. I think it was 10, if I'm not mistaken. I think so.

James Blatch: So, nearly a book a month. You write every day, I assume?

Dani Rene: I do, yeah. Last year, March, I actually quit my job. I was able to quit my job with my income. Now I write every day. Basically, I'm not a plotter at all. I'm very much, I sit down at my computer and start writing. Everybody always ask me how I'm able to do it, but I do tend to jump around manuscripts. I'll start working on one and I might get an idea for the other story and I quickly jump to that one and write the scene down. I tend to do that quite a lot and I suppose that's how I can write a lot of books in that time span.

My process is pretty much, in the mornings I try and get through emails and do admin. And then I spend the day all the way to about 5:00 in the evening just writing.

James Blatch: Do you have a word count target for yourself?

Dani Rene: It depends on deadlines. If I've got a specific deadline or if there's a release that's planned for a specific date, then I try and get about 5,000 words a day. And then the odd days where I feel a story's just flowing and I can easily get up to 10,000 words a day.

James Blatch: Wow.

Dani Rene: I haven't got more than that, though.

James Blatch: That's amazing. And you're writing on a keyboard in Scrivener or are you dictating?

Dani Rene: I write on my laptop and I generally use Word, but I do use Scrivener sometimes every now and again, if I feel like a change of scenery I'll open that up. Generally, just Word on my laptop.

James Blatch: Keep it fresh.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Now, your covers are very striking. Do you source them in South Africa? Have you got people online doing them for you as well?

Dani Rene: Most of my covers I do myself. Because I'm a graphic designer.

James Blatch: Yes, you said that.

Dani Rene: I have worked with cover designers, actually in the UK. She is actually a fine artist and I find some of her covers are quite striking with the way she paints on them. I have got a few covers from her. But, I generally do them myself, because I know my deadline and if I want the cover done now, then I can do it now.

James Blatch: Yeah. And again, it's another change of scenery, isn't it? I get the feeling you're somebody who likes to have a little break from one thing and move onto another.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: I think that works for me as well. Nice. And what about outside of eBooks and prints on demand? First of all, I think you're probably exclusively ... You're not, looking at this.

Are you in KU?

Dani Rene: Some of my books are and then there are some that are wide.

James Blatch: Oh, okay. You do do some wide.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: And audiobooks?

Dani Rene: I have got a handful of audiobooks. I've got three with Tantor audio. I'm actually currently looking for narrators for another one. But I've done four myself through Findaway Voices. Because once again, in South Africa, we can't use Audible directly.

James Blatch: Right.

Dani Rene: Or ACX. I go through Findaway Voices and they distribute to everyone. So I've done a few myself and then obviously Tantor signed three of them from me as well.

James Blatch: In terms of Findaway, and they're different ways of doing it, and we've actually just done a deal with Tantor as well for the books in our imprint.

Dani Rene: Okay.

James Blatch: But I was just researching doing them myself and ... Not myself, but organising it myself.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: And I was looking at Findaway's model of basically using them as the production organisation, select the voice, and then you end up with the completed unit which are yours to distribute as you wish at that point, so you could then go with Audible or whatever.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Was that what you were looking at before? Is that what you did with Findaway or did you do the deal where they also do the distribution?

Dani Rene: I actually just had them do everything. I uploaded the files and then found the narrator that I wanted to use. And then, there was obviously the option of "Here's all your files" and I just thought, "Well, it's going to just be easier to have them do it, because they know where to put them and that kind of thing."

Because as a South African, I can't actually go onto ACX, create an account, and upload my files. I thought, "Let them do it directly to Amazon." And then I figured, "Well, if they're going to do it through to ACX, then I may as well just do all the other channels." So, they've done it all for me. And it's really been an easy process. I'm happy with the way they work and everything.

James Blatch: It's quite frustrating, some of this, isn't it? Being in South Africa.

Dani Rene: It is.

James Blatch: I don't know how similar this to other countries outside the UK, US. But, it must be a bit annoying.

Do you have virtual private networks, these VPNs you can set yourself up pretending you're in another country? Is that something you've looked into?

Dani Rene: I was looking into it, but obviously, on the tax forms and things like that, I need to put in my South African tax number-

James Blatch: Sure.

Dani Rene: ... and all of that. I figured, "I may as well just ... " I'm used to finding roundabout ways, like using Findaway and that kind of thing. I know there are a few local authors popping up now that I've helped and everything. And hopefully, just offering that advice that ... The mistakes I've found, or the issues I've found sort of helps them.

For me personally, I quite like having Findaway as almost the third-party, because then if I want to remove a book, I can just go onto one storefront and go, "Okay. Remove it from here." Whereas, if you go anywhere else, it's like, "Oh, I have to go to this one separately, then that one." And it's the same with Barnes & Noble, because we can't publish directly to Barnes & Noble, so I use Draft2Digital.

James Blatch: Yes. Oh, they're great.

Dani Rene: And they then do the libraries, like Scribd and all of that for me as well.

James Blatch: I guess in your situation, those aggregates, like D2D and Findaway really come into their own, open up the market to you.

Dani Rene: Yes.

James Blatch: In terms of sales for audiobooks, is it an important part of your income stream?

Dani Rene: Not really. I suppose also it's just I haven't marketed them as much as I do my eBooks. I would say, comparatively, 90% of my sales are eBook. I then possibly have 5% between paperback and audio. I know audio's quite big. I see a lot of romance readers or listeners now enjoy audio, so I think once the series is actually completed into audio, I might just market properly. I've been terrible at marketing my audiobooks.

James Blatch: It's a different type of marketing as well. Let's just finish with marketing.

What are you doing at the moment in terms of ads and marketing?

Dani Rene: I work on Facebook ads and then I run BookBub ads as well. I found them both very beneficial for me or for my genre. I have tested out AMS ads or Amazon ads, but I have to actually sit down and look at it, because I find that that's more difficult to me, or I found them more expensive than Facebook and BookBub. I don't know. But, I did sign up for the course, Ads for Authors course, so I'm busy going through those now. Because I would like to, obviously, advertise on Amazon.

Also, it's quite difficult, romance-wise, because a lot of my covers used to have couples on them and Amazon doesn't like when you have couples on a cover and that kind of thing. I just have to try and also rebrand so that I can advertise on these sites.

James Blatch: I can see a lot of naked male torsos when I glance down your list. But that's okay, you can have those. But, yes. You do start to bump up against their guidelines and they want to keep it clean over there. Great. Well, look. I mean, I want to say congratulations, Dani. From a standing start and by your own admission, naïve and clueless, which is probably where we all start, right?

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: It's a big wide world of self-publishing out there that you're not born knowing about. And you've gone to being USA Today best-seller, and I can look down your list and see the success looking out at me. And five figure months, that's fantastic. That must be ... And last time I was in South Africa, because of the exchange rate, money went a long way.

Dani Rene: Yes, it does.

James Blatch: Somebody making five figures in Washington DC and South Africa, you're in a nice position, which is fantastic.

Dani Rene: Yeah. No, it has been. It definitely was, first, surprising and then it's one of those things where you're struggling by, struggling by trying to figure this out and then suddenly, something just hits and then the sales go up and you go wow. And obviously, the exchange rate has been very, very welcome.

James Blatch: Yes.

Dani Rene: Which is helpful. But, yeah. It's been very good. And I have to say, and this is what I always tell authors when I do workshops, is that it's definitely not an overnight thing and you have to work at it. You have to produce a quality product. You need to make sure that it looks good and, of course, it's edited and that kind of thing. It is a lot of work.

James Blatch: Is there any scope for writing in Afrikaans? I don't know if you speak Afrikaans?

Dani Rene: I do speak it. I learned it at school, but I'm terrible. I can't translate in my head fast enough, so even when ... Like locally, if someone's speaking Afrikaans to me, I change and answer in English. But, there is a big Afrikaans romance market, but then, I would have to go to a translator and have them do it. Because I definitely can't write Afrikaans.

James Blatch: That's interesting. Because I imagine that if you're organised and good as you are, if you happen to have been Afrikaans you could be a big fish in a smaller market there. Because it is widely spoken, Afrikaans, in South Africa?

Dani Rene: It is, yeah.

James Blatch: Half the country speak it a lot, don't they?

Dani Rene: Yeah, yeah. And I know a few Afrikaans authors. They're with traditional publishers, though. But, yeah. I mean, they do really well. They write in Afrikaans, obviously. One of the ladies is bilingual. I would definitely have to find a translator and all of that.

James Blatch: Yeah, I was just wondering if you happened to have been Afrikaans, because they always ... Not everyone knows this, but half of South Africa's English. South African half is Afrikaans, half African.

Dani Rene: It is.

James Blatch: Actually, I don't even know if it's 50/50, but it's not always clear to me when I'm speaking to people who speaks what language.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: Apart from sometimes that Afrikaans person who refuses to speak any English to you, which happens occasionally. It happened occasionally to me while I was there.

Dani Rene: Oh, no.

James Blatch: It is a bit like Dutch, isn't it?

Dani Rene: Yes. Yeah. One of my readers actually said ... Because the one day she posted something on Facebook and I managed to respond in Afrikaans, and she said, "Oh, I understand that." The Dutch people always tell us we sound like their kids when they're learning to speak Dutch.

James Blatch: Right. Yeah, yeah.

Dani Rene: Yeah.

James Blatch: And Dutch is a language you can't guess at.

Dani Rene: No.

James Blatch: You need to know it. Okay. Look, brilliant. Dani, it's been really lovely speaking to you. Congratulations again on your success. Stay in touch, we'll see how you grow. Sounds like this is your time now. You've blown up in the last couple of years.

Dani Rene: Thank you.

James Blatch: I see only good things in your future.

Dani Rene: Thank you.

James Blatch: Sounds sort of mystic.

Dani Rene: Thank you so much.

James Blatch: I guess there is a bias towards America and Britain as well. So it probably punches above its weight in terms of technology leaders. Even in France and Belgium, actually, not speaking English, there are some hurdles that you and I don't necessarily fully appreciate or know about to think about.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, that's true. Even Aussies and Kiwis I think have issues with predominant demand, because as far as I know anyway, there's no print sale in Australia or New Zealand. Whereas, when I've been to the print centre in Milton Keynes, I think there's one in Poland. Obviously, there's lots in the States. I don't think there's one in Australia. I might be wrong. If there is, it's only recent. Those kinds of things are providing issues that they have to get over that we don't have to deal with over here. Yeah, it can be challenging.

And things like advertising as well, and also, ACX. I mean, they can't access ACX if you're not in the UK or the US. I think is the only two countries that you can get into an ACX for. There are issues that need to be surmounted. But there are clever people out there making it easy for people to take advantage of those kinds of options that we take for granted.

James Blatch: Yes, indeed. Well, I really enjoyed talking to Dani and I'm very impressed with her set up. If you have to look at her website and her books, she's spot on, gets everything right. And has a couple of social and cultural issues to deal with in South Africa. A big section of White South Africa is quite conservative. The other's slightly more liberal and English. And she trends a line and she's bumped up against a few issues there, which can't always be easy, but she does a great job and well done to her, Dani.

One day, when we can travel again, we'll add South Africa to the list of want-to-go-places for the team SPF term. I don't know if we're every going to get out of this island again. This could be it now.

Mark Dawson: Could be, yeah. But, the reason I'm recording this today is Mrs. Dawson and me are going away for the night. There's a very nice hotel in New Forest, so we're going to be relaxing. And also, especially because it's only 27 degrees here today.

James Blatch: It's amazing.

Mark Dawson: Very nice.

James Blatch: Yeah, September's going to be 29, I think, today here in Huntington, so really warm.

Mark Dawson: Wow.

James Blatch: Good. Sans enfants?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, no children. They're being looked after by their grandparents, so we will be having a relaxing time over the next couple of days.

James Blatch: I'd liked to see the look on Lucy's face when you sneak the golf clubs into the back of the car.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, nor do I. I'm not doing that. I played twice over the weekend. But, yeah. I'll be reading a lot, so we'll be lying by the pool and doing some reading.

James Blatch: Me too. I'm reading an exciting new Craig Martel book at the moment, which I'm loving.

Mark Dawson: Ah, very good.

James Blatch: Which I may talk about in the near future. Good. Okay. Thank you very much indeed, Mark. I want to say thank you again to Dani for joining us on the show today.

And don't forget, you can go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. And as Mark said, if you want to keep your ears to the ground on stuff happening that can effect your sales and your marketing, do join our Facebook group. I think it's called SPF Secret Group, but if you just search, "Self-publishing formula," on Facebook, you will find it. There's some genre-specific groups there for you as well.

101 opens on Wednesday, so we're going to be busy bunnies. Selfpublishingshowformula.com/101. And we've got some good interviews coming up. Doing loads at the moment, so some good stuff to talk about. We'll talk all about female Tornado pilot, which I'm still very excited about, coming your way at mach two.

Mark Dawson: I'm sure you are.

James Blatch: Mach two any moment now. Okay. Thank you very much, indeed. All that remains for me to say is it's goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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